Friday, November 20th, 2009
Privacy on the internet, folks. Being anonymous online is harder than you think.
To sum up: Kurt Greenbaum, a journalist/editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (and — laughingly — is also the Director of Social Media there, which I’m betting the higher-ups at the St. Louis Post are regretting right about now) posted an article to the Post-Dispach’s blog entitled “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten? And did you like it?“. Unsurprisingly to anyone who’s read comments on the internet before, one reader responded with the obvious: “pussy”. Mr. Greenbaum checked out the IP address, saw it was from a local school, and decided to call the school rather than delete the comment or block users from that IP from commenting. The school worked their IT magic, discovered the comment had come from one of the teachers, and the teacher resigned upon being confronted with the information. The following Monday, Greenbaum posted a boasting warning: post a vulgar comment while you’re at work, lose your job. The internet gets a hold of this and, predictably, responds with WHUT HELL NO (well, I guess predictably if you’re anyone but the Director of Social Media at the Post-Dispatch anyway).
This is a pretty good illustration of why my rule of thumb is to only post online things I’m comfortable with the entire world knowing. Anonymity on the internet is not quite a myth, but it is a more complicated thing than a lot of people realize, and that’s not yet something that’s been honestly and openly addressed by society at large or — probably more importantly — the legal systems. This is also a pretty good example of how important it is to have actual social media savvy people on the payroll. Several massive mistakes were made along the way here, from the phone call to the gloating after-post to the overly defensive and self-important tone Greenbaum takes with commenters who take issue with his actions. There is indeed a teachable moment at the core of all this, but it’s definitely not the one Kurt Greenbaum thought it would be.